Army Family Action Plan Conference Opens

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Dec. 3, 2007) - Army leaders renewed their commitment to Families during the opening session of the Army Family Action Plan Conference today and announced that Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. will chair a Soldier and Family Readiness Board of Directors.

Although this year's AFAP is the 24th annual conference, Gen. Casey and Lt. Gen. Robert Wilson, commanding general of the Installation Management Command and Family Action Plan lead, said they expected it to be especially important because of the Army Family Covenant.

Initially signed in October, the covenant is the Army's commitment to take care of Soldiers and their Families, to standardize and fund Family programs and services, provide top-quality healthcare, improve housing, ensure excellence in schools and childcare and expand education and employment opportunities for Families.

"I started asking people, 'Is the role of the Family in the Soldier's decision to stay in the all-volunteer force so important that we should treat Families as a readiness issue?'" said Gen. Casey. "The answer I got, time and again, was, 'Yeah. What took you so long?' When you tell someone in uniform it's a readiness issue, you do it, you take care of it."

Describing the Army as "out of balance," but still the "best in the world," Gen. Casey said that over the next three to four years, the Army must sustain its current Soldiers, in part by taking care of their Families.

The Army must also prepare Soldiers for success in the current conflict and reset them when they come home. According to Gen. Casey, the Army is working on a standardized six-month reset model, where Soldiers will essentially go into "dry dock" for six months after deployment to get organized in individual training. After that time, they'll be ready to restart their training.

Gen. Casey said the Army is also 60 percent finished with its largest transformation since World War II and must continue to transform to meet the needs of the 21st century. A large part of that is transforming support structures to meet the needs of an expeditionary Army at war.

He said the Army has already made great strides, and has devoted $1.4 billion to Families in this year's budget. The Army is working with the Department of Defense and TRICARE on healthcare, and in the meantime, has placed surgeons on installation commanders' staffs.

The Army already has about 79,000 privatized homes and by 2010, 97 percent of Army installations will have Residential Community Initiatives.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston compared the new houses to government housing when he was a young noncommissioned officer, noting that when he enlisted, specialists and below weren't even eligible for government housing. It was considered a privilege.

"I had a chance to visit some of the new Residential Communities Initiative housing," he said. "Standing down there talking to a young staff sergeant, his wife and two children, and they were describing this 1700-square-foot home that they were living in. They took me inside and showed me around and I was very appreciative for them to open their house and show me the quality of life that they were now living in.

"But as I stood there in the front yard, across the street, off to my left there was an old housing area. I lived in that housing area as a staff sergeant. They were eight apartment units all put together, two-story ups and downs. I remember in the summer months, cutting the back yard, I had to walk all the way around the other apartments to cut the grass in the front. It was a unique experience to reflect on where we've been, where we are as we now talk about the Army Family Covenant, and where the Army's going for the future," he said.

The Army will also go from 130 to almost 200 childcare centers in the next few years, Gen. Casey said. He said the Army has partnered with 30 national employers like Home Depot to employ more than 20,000 spouses under the Army Spouse Employment Program. The DOD and Department of Labor recently announced a new program to give spouses $3,000 for job training. Finally, the DOD is working to broaden a recruiting initiative that allows servicemembers to transfer G.I. Bill benefits to spouses and children.

"Listening to the Families, having been in Iraq, understanding what we were asking of them, having lost my own dad in Vietnam, I understand the effects war has on Families," said Gen. Casey. "Good enough, just making the best of it, wasn't what Army Families needed. They need support. We're committed to delivering that."

The Army Family Action Plan Conference continues through Dec. 7 in Alexandria, Va.